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Ask: When’s the right time for swim lessons?

Q: I’m thinking about signing my preschooler up for swim classes this summer, but I’ve heard it’s not a good idea to start too young. When is the right time for swim lessons?

A: Summer is coming and it’s time to start getting out and swimming!

Children generally love the water, and it is a great way to spend time together as a family. We all remember the need for 30-30 (that’s the SPF of the sunscreen and the DEET percentage of the lotions and sprays you’ll be using outside), but you may not know the newest research on swim lessons for kids.

We used to say not to give swim lessons to children under 4 years of age because there was no proof it prevented drowning, but it made kids inappropriately brave around water. But there is new research to suggest that swimming lessons for children over 1 year of age actually probably do help protect them from drowning. So the American Academy of Pediatrics now says that children from 1 to 4 should have swimming lessons if desired by the family, and it recommends that all children over age 4 learn to swim.

Drowning deaths have decreased over the past 30 years, but they are still a common cause of death in young children. Even if your preschool-age child can swim on her own, you should stay within arm’s reach and be in the water with her. Another option is to use an approved life vest at the pool. This also helps protect skin from sun. There is no real reason to use the inflatable arm flotation devices – again, it risks making you think your child is protected when in reality she can drown with those on.

So enjoy the water, and enjoy the time together, but be careful around the water.

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Dr. Mike Steiner is a pediatrician in the division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at UNC and North Carolina Children’s Hospital.